Montana is grateful for borrowed Canadian aircraft

Highway 87 Fire
Highway 87 Fire
In August retardant dropped by air tankers helped slow the spread of the Highway 87 Fire in Montana. Montana DNRC photo.

Several firefighting aircraft from Canada have been in Montana this summer, on loan thanks to an international agreement. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta sent three CV-580 air tankers, two lead planes, and one Bell 212 helicopter under the provisions of an arrangement between five U.S. states and five Canadian provinces titled the “Northwest Wildland Fire Protection Agreement”, which allows ground and air firefighting resources to be exchanged between the two countries. The aircraft have been stationed at Helena and Billings since June.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Billings Gazette about the agreement and the aircraft:

With the Canadian tankers and helicopter available, fire crews can throw more resources — and do it faster — than usual at new starts in an effort to nip them before they can blow up. For example, the Hibbard fire sparked on Sunday north of Pompeys Pillar and, within hours, three heavy tankers and a helicopter were helping local crews, dousing the fire after it burned 326 acres.

“We want to get in there and dogpile the fires as soon as we hear about them,” [Matt] Wolcott [the Montana DNRC Southern Land Office’s area manager] said.

And its not just the Billings area benefiting from the Northwest Compact. They’ve helped out everywhere from Yellowstone National Park to the Hi-line, from the Crow Indian Reservation to the Missouri Breaks.

Last year, Montana also sent crews to help fight fires in Alaska and an overhead crew, engines and other resources to British Columbia during the 2010 fire season.

While the U.S. has sent ground-based firefighters to Canada on several occasions, I can’t recall any long-term deployment of government-owned air tankers from the U.S. to Canada. Oh, right… that’s because we don’t have have any.


Thanks go out to Dick and Kelly.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

6 thoughts on “Montana is grateful for borrowed Canadian aircraft”

  1. When I worked in MN (Superior NF) from 1999-2008 Both MN-SUF and the MN-DNR had agreements with Ontario Canada, we would swap Airtankers, Crews, and Helicopters for border fires. It was a slick agreement, one phone call to Dryden Center in Ontario to the MNR and we had CL-415’s and Bird-dogs with in 45 min. Our agreement stated that either country could go 8 miles from the border on either side for IA ……That was one easy agreement for the Dispatch system….

    1. Worked a lot behind Canadian Bird Dogs when I
      was based out of Wenatchee Wa. back in the 90’s.
      Very good target description…

  2. Excellent initial attack. Notice the fuel type they dropped in. This is when airtankers work. The Trinty ridge fire is a perfect example when they don’t.

  3. Good on Montana’s DNRC to recognize the dire situation and take action by bringing in resources. Maybe their wakeup call happened with the Dahl fire.
    Interesting that they discovered for themselves that a quick and hard initial attack on new starts is effective.

    Maybe Montana’s DNRC and Neptune can come together for a stateside air tanker contract of 1 or 2 aircraft similar to Oregon and Butler for future fire seasons.

    10 Tanker Air Carrier was called in to help with out in Alberta in 2011. The DC-10 was used to lay long lines of retardant and the Martin Mars used to reinforce those lines with blue thermogel drops.


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